The Brisbane Anywhere Theatre Festival has begun and has lots on offer from cabaret, theatre, and mixed media performances in unconventional venues across Brisbane.
One such production is the mixed-media shadow-puppetry play The Nightingale and the Rose, based on Oscar Wilde’s novel debating which quality is more important – love or philosophy (knowledge).
What is the heart of a bird compared to that of a man?
It is a morality tale in which a nightingale goes on a quest and sacrifice’s herself so that a forlorn philosophy student can present his love with a rare red rose in order for her to dance with him.
Set amongst the ruins in the Powerhouse Plaza, the productions is an installation of five shadow boxes, a large screen, which projected filmed scenes (by film artist Belinda McCulloch), and another screen that displays the written text of the story, much like the silent theatre of old. Adding atmosphere to the mix, were musicians Richard Grantham and Caitlin Marie Adie, creating an original soundscape to the piece. The beautiful soaring vocals (Helen Stephens) as the nightgale sang was evocative and could have been used more. There was also a nice moment where the lighting effects on the blood-spilled rose brought a lovely red glow to the otherwise black and white shadows.
I love mixed media works and admire artists who experiment with the form of theatre. This particular work with seven screens, filmed segments, live musicians and shadow puppets which required a team of actor/puppeteers to control, would have been a logistical nightmare for Director Jennifer Bismire and Technical Director Imogen Titmarsh to wrangle. And with any experimentation that includes technology, there is always the compounded risk of things not going quite according to plan.
The show did having timing and some sound issues. The screen with the narration would have been better placed closer (or in the centre) of the action. I did miss part of the story as it was quite a nick turner and not in my peripheral vision. In addition, it seemed the development stage of this production was done in a small space, as the puppets themselves (and most significantly, the rose that the boy held) did not quite scale up to a theatre audience. (Just as a side note, the placement of the shadow man’s arm was a little disconcerting at times. Maybe the top part of the arm needed to be a little shorter?)
I feel this tale of The Nightingale and the Rose would do well going back into development for a little pruning. The story, narration, music, and filmed segments work well, but the actual puppetry failed to keep the audience’s attention as each moment was dragged out a little more than this i-generation can focus for.
The production goes for sixty minutes without an interval, and as the performance is outside (as many of the performances for the Anywhere Theatre Festival are) it would be wise to remember to take an extra jacket (and umbrella).
For more information on The Nightingale and the Rose, see the Brisbane Powerhouse website: www.brisbanepowerhouse.org/events/view/the-nightingale-and-the-rose
Stage Director: Jennifer Bismire
Film Director:Belinda McCulloch
Music Director: Richard Grantham
Technical Director: Imogen Titmarsh
Puppetry Cast: Caitlin Marie Adie, Emily Bruce, Perie Essex, Eloise Maree, Lauren Neilson, Helen Stephens, Sami Van Barneveld
Film Cast: John Grey, Michael Croome, Tim Gollan